America ReFramed

Random Acts of Legacy

Season 06  Episode 11

In RANDOM ACTS OF LEGACY, filmmaker Ali Kazimi finds a rare cache of 16mm home movies spanning from 1936 to 1951 and deftly crafts a story which unfolds with the vintage footage of a family archive. Kazimi learns the work was made by Silas Henry Fung. It reveals a creative and enterprising Chinese American household in middle America during the Depression years. 

Kazimi’s desire to understand the material led him to Irena Lum, Mr. Fung’s daughter. Irena lends insight to her father’s deteriorating footage. Silas Fung was a trained commercial artist and a gifted musician. His wife Edythe, Irena’s mother, was a successful insurance agent. Irena also recounts that she went to an elementary school where she was the only Chinese student. 

Extraordinary for its unvarnished representation of family life, at home, church and play, Fung’s moving pictures offer a surprising counter-narrative to stereotypes of Chinese Americans in his day. His films captured birthday celebrations with cake and candles, gatherings and picnics in the park, as well as family fishing and boating outings. Silas Fung's images celebrate the everyday life of his first-generation, upwardly-mobile, Chinese American family; a portrait of lives otherwise omitted from moving-image history.